Stress test for Tonse alliance: By-elections fight reveals deep-seated hostility between MCP and UTM

In the beginning there was Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM—two different political parties, sharply divided in philosophy and agenda, the likelihood of having the two in an alliance was unarguably negligible.

Chakwera and Chilima:  MCP and UTM fighting each other in by-elections amid the challenges of turning a new page in a time of austerity 

On the campaign trail to the botched 2019 tri-partite elections, MCP and UTM traded scary barbs that a slight dream of having the two together, one day, would have seen millions demanding they help you to a mental hospital.

The two were unlikely political bedfellows: MCP represents traditional values of calm and respect; UTM represented progressives who always demand with impatience.

But boom! Tonse Alliance was born and beautiful pictures of two smiling general, Saulos Chilima and Lazarus Chakwera, graced the headlines—a conclusion of their coming together to remove Peter Mutharika from office.

About five months in office now, the pair, of course, always looks promising on podiums, especially when they are shiny in suits and sharing hugs.

But when we go deep in street talk and politicking, it is all not rosy. The ground they are standing on is shaky. The falconer appears to be getting mute from another falconer—and tongues are wagging about fallout that is imminent.

As it is in politics, there is always a moment, an event, or a trigger that presents a ground to appreciate the depth and width of a problem.

For MCP and UTM troubles, nothing comes sharper and befitting than the by-election in Karonga Central Constituency which, because of vile campaign, has exposed the widening cracks in the ruling coalition, especially between the President and his deputy.

The by-election was called after the sitting MP, the MCP’s Cornelius Mwalwanda, died of Covid-19. His nephew Leonard Mwalwanda, the new MCP candidate, is fighting the UTM’s candidate Frank  Tumpale Mwenefumbo. A cavalcade of senior party and government officials has trooped in to Karonga, dubbed ‘Benghazi’ because of its reputation for violent confrontations between the young faithful of both parties, to hold rallies and convince voters.

Cabinet ministers and senior officials led by Chakwera’s Vice-President for the North, Harry Mkandawire, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Madalitso Kazombo and Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo, have urged voters at rallies to vote MCP and ignore the UTM, which they say is only a ‘passenger’ in the new administration.

A leading light in the MCP campaign is the firebrand civil society leader-turned-politician Timothy Mtambo, who was highly effective in the mass protests against electoral commission chair Judge Jane Ansah in the run up to the decision by Malawian judges to cancel the 2019 presidential election, which was re-run on 23 June.

Mtambo, capitalising on his initially non-partisan Citizens for Transformation which he created in April,  has been trying to draw UTM followers into the MCP camp which he now aligns with.

The UTM hdeployed equally heavy ammunition, led by the formidable Gender Minister and UTM Secretary General Patricia Kaliati, aided by the late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s widow, Callista Mutharika, and Mwenifumbo.

For a context, we shouldn’t forget that we have a background of trouble between MCP and UTM resulting from tacit issues emanating from how Chakwera instituted his Cabinet.

The UTM argued that he reneged on a Finance portfolio, which went instead to Felix Mlusu, a prominent local CEO. The MCP got defence, health, transport and infrastructure, land and housing, agriculture, mining, foreign affairs, trade, justice and environmental affairs.

Instead of finance, Chilima became Economic Planning Minister. The UTM got the less central portfolios of information, education, energy, tourism and gender. The party rankled at only getting 15% of state appointments to public companies, which in has caused many in the party to question the value of their coalition.

A break-up in the coalition is thought by most pundits to be extremely unlikely, especially this early. Both parties urgently need access to the resources that being in government gives them, and neither will want to give that up.

The by-election also reflects a wider struggle between the UTM and the MCP for the faith of DPP MPs.

Another destabilising factor in the political scene is over the status of Chilima himself. Elected Vice-President with President Peter Mutharika in 2014, he is now serving his two consecutive terms of office.

The Tonse alliance pact between Chakwera and Chilima was that  it will be rotational presidency. Chilima  said publicly that they agreed Chakwera to lead first and then he leads next time polling but according to a ruling in 2009 by the Constitutional Court, a vice president who has served two consecutive terms cannot run again either as vice-president or as president.

However, the law on this is not clear and Chilima supporters certainly believe the veep  is eligible to stand for the presidency in 2025.

As of now, Chilima’s social media team has gone into overdrive accusing the government of nepotism, corruption and breaking campaign promises. He feels he is being kept at a distance and Chakwera’s recent decision to delegate Mia to Tanzania is just a nail on the coffin.

The question is: Will MCP and UTM stand the tide until 2025? Hopefully they will but, speaking facts, it doesn’t seem so. –Additional reporting by Africa Confidential.

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The Patriot
The Patriot
8 months ago

To say there is no rift between MCP and UTM is willfully being blind. The sooner this is acknowledged the better for q solution.

Hypocrit
Hypocrit
8 months ago

Just seeing the headline one could tell this must be Fiko writing, the writer is never objective, he is bitter with Tonse, ACB should investigate this guy I totally believe he was on payroll of DPP. When he thinks about story ideas he only think of how to devide the nation. Mindset change is the key in this age, let’s not pursue Muluzi politics, times have changed.

Asolewewisi
Asolewewisi
8 months ago

Akulu you need to be looking at the bigger picture. The most important was to get rid of thieves in government and get people who can deliver. It is obvious that there will be differences between MCP and UTM as they are different parties with different ideologies. What would you yourself do if you were in MCP or UTM?

Yonseyonse Sindyeka
Yonseyonse Sindyeka
8 months ago

The writer is still in the Bakili era. People with dfrnt philosophies can work in coalition if they set a common agenda, do you need more proof?
Maturity is all isee in the Leadership of Tonse Alliance.

Nalingula
Nalingula
8 months ago

Hopefully both Chakwera and Chilima are wise…It does not make sense for the Two Parties to be Competing in Bye Elections where the Seat was previously held by Either of them ….Suppose they Divide Votes and DPP takes the Position ….It won’t look Good same if MCP or UTM takes over a seat previously held by the other …Emotions Don’t Help….Think strategically ….In 2025 Both parties will have to Point at What they have achieved ….Don’t be fooled ….Tikukuonatu….Titha kudzampatsa mbakuwaku Chinthuchi….

The Karanga of Soshangumve

Ndiri ku ma stand

Kapwithi Banda
Kapwithi Banda
8 months ago

Tonse is tearing itself apart. SKC is too principled to accept the increasing autocratic one man rule of Chakwera and the party of darkness and death MCP. We need strong opposition in parliament and UTM DPP alliance led by SKC.

masa masina
masa masina
8 months ago
Reply to  Kapwithi Banda

This is the joke of the year. UTM/DDP alliance! My foot! DPP is dieing a slow death.

Ndine
Ndine
8 months ago

Neither MCP nor UTM can amass 50%+1 they will still need each other forever.

Arthur Yoyo
Arthur Yoyo
8 months ago
Reply to  Ndine

No No No UTM and SKC do not need MCP. For sure SKC will lead a merged UTM and DPP to put MCP back in opposition for another 35 years or more.

Last edited 8 months ago by Arthur Yoyo
Lumbani
Lumbani
8 months ago
Reply to  Ndine

well the law doesn’t support it after 5 years and LC will not step down for any UTM candidate

Alamu Pumani Mwakalamba

The only valuable person in UTM is Saulos Chilima. The rest are crap. They can only attract flies.

CESSPOOL
CESSPOOL
8 months ago

A correct observation. Moreover UTM is full of political prostitutes and mercenaries. Those recycled dunderheads haven’t any vision for the party but we’ll schooled in tearing others apart. The party is in hands of predators whose mission is gaining appointment in various boards for their “unflinching loyalty” scavengers are abroad in the UTM Tumpare has slept in how many party bedrooms before embracing UTM? he has the answer

True Witness
True Witness
8 months ago

Only time will tell bwana! there will always be people who want to benefit from political chaos, such people he no where to go when things are peaceful between political allies.

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